mental health, rants

Here’s a cookie.

I could so easily write about Donald Trump’s latest nonsense, but I figure enough people are already doing that. Besides, as the campaign season heats up, I’m sure I’ll feel like ranting about his stupidity. So, for now, I’m going to write about gaiters.

Before the stupid COVID-19 pandemic, I had never heard of gaiters. I didn’t know what they were. Yes, I had seen people wearing them, but I wasn’t aware of the term for them and I never wore one myself. One of my friends mentioned that she liked to wear them instead of face masks because they make her feel less claustrophobic than face masks do.

I thought of my friend last week, as the news media reported about a simple study done by researchers at Duke University’s medical school. They were trying to find face coverings for the at-risk and underserved populations in Durham, North Carolina. Having been a student of public health and social work in neighboring South Carolina, I know that there are a lot of poor people in that region and one great mission of the universities down there is to provide assistance to people in poor and rural communities.

So anyway, one of the study’s co-authors, Warren S. Warren, a professor of physics, chemistry, radiology and biomedical engineering at Duke, was quoted as saying “There’s a lot of controversy and people say, ‘Well, masks don’t do anything.’ Well, the answer is some don’t, but most do.”

It was in the news, too.

Then, the news reported that the researchers had found that wearing gaiters might be worse than not wearing a mask at all. Naturally, this finding immediately caused controversy. Gaiter manufacturers, no doubt enjoying the increased sales of their products, rushed to clarify that not all gaiters are created equally. For about a week, people wondered if they should be changing their face coverings… and I’m sure some busybodies wondered if they needed to be confronting strangers about what they were covering their noses and mouths with.

And then yesterday, there was a news article in The New York Times called “Save the Gaiters!”. Sure enough, this was a piece about how people should not be so quick to toss their gaiters. Apparently even more studies are being done that show that gaiters are alright after all. The upshot was that any covering is better than none.

Naturally, I was annoyed by this news… but I was even more annoyed by some of the comments. Some of the comments were very good and insightful. For instance, one mom wrote that gaiters were the only covering her autistic son could tolerate. Another wrote that he preferred wearing gaiters because he wears hearing aids and they cost $6000. When he’s worn the usual face masks, the over the ear loops have knocked out his expensive hearing aids. Someone else wrote that they like the gaiters for exercising, since they are easy to pull up and down. I thought these were all good points, worthy of considering.

But then, not surprisingly, along came the virtue signalers… people who seem to think that face coverings are awesome and should be something we all wear forevermore. One person wrote about how the mask they wear is five layers thick and passes the “Bill Nye candle test” (if you can blow out a candle while wearing a mask, it’s no good). I felt like handing the person a cookie. The same commenter wrote that he or she was about to correct someone in a store who was wearing a gaiter because the news had reported the gaiters were no good. S/he wrote that in the end, s/he didn’t say anything to the gaiter wearer and was glad for that. You know what? Me too. Who appointed that person “mask police”, anyway? I can pretty much imagine how I would have reacted if some busybody stranger gave me unsolicited advice over my face covering. My eyes would have said it all.

Other people pointed out that the constantly changing guidelines about COVID-19 are very frustrating to people, causing a lot of them to just “throw up their hands”. I agree with that comment. The guidelines have been changing constantly ever since this became an issue months ago. The fact is, most people have no idea what to do. Not even the scientists do. That’s why the advice is constantly changing. Oh, but try and tell that to some people… (which I don’t because that’s a big waste of time).

More people were acting like experts– good students of Google, who think they are up on all the COVID-19 research. But opinions seem to differ on whose opinion one should take seriously. According to Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times reporter who wrote the piece on saving the gaiters, it’s Dr. Linsey Marr of Virginia Tech, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and one of the world’s leading experts on aerosols. But I’m sure other people have their favorite experts on this topic… and some people fancy themselves as more knowledgeable about this subject than they actually are.

I know that I’ve already covered this topic extensively. I still hate wearing masks and I hope that something better comes along that makes them obsolete. They do cause problems for a significant number of people, and they are inconvenient, uncomfortable, and a reminder of how much things suck right now. I wore a mask this morning when I went to turn in a new passport application. As I left the building where we turned in the paperwork, I noticed how the mask obscured my vision. I had to pull it down from my eyes so I wouldn’t trip on the stairs and face plant in the parking lot. I do that enough when I’m not wearing a fucking mask.

I do cooperate with the rules, but I’m not particularly happy about it. And I don’t think I have to be happy– which is yet another attitude about masks that I find irritating. Some people are going around preaching about the wonders of face masks and how we should all cheerfully do our parts. But the reality is, face masks suck for a lot of people. Some people can’t stand to wear them. Some people can’t communicate as easily because of them. Wearing them is definitely not the ideal, and not something that we should just accept from now on. If we simply accept the masks as the status quo, what incentive do we have to find a way to beat COVID-19?

People have every right to be upset about what’s going on right now. We’re all in this together, that’s true, and maybe griping or being grumpy about face masks isn’t productive. But neither is “toxic positivity”. Sometimes, things just plain suck, and it’s okay to acknowledge that. It’s okay to hate face masks, and to be irritated by cheerleaders who insist that face masks will save humanity (they won’t). It’s alright to be pissed off that people are dying alone in hospitals, even if they don’t have the virus. It’s alright to be angry that people have lost their jobs, and some are losing their homes, and young people are being denied rites of passage like attending college, going to football games and dances, hanging out in cafes, and being with their friends. Acknowledging how much this blows isn’t a bad thing. Hell, maybe it might spur some smart people into action so that this era will be in the past sooner, rather than later.

There’s even a good article about “toxic positivity” in the Washington Post today. It’s basically about how people should have the right not to be okay if they’re not okay. It’s okay not to give in to cognitive dissonance. It’s also okay to realize that we don’t always have to be cheerful and upbeat. I will grant that staying in a cranky place isn’t helpful, but neither is ignoring the pain within ourselves or in other people.

I’m getting pretty tired of the relentlessly cheerful folks. I’m tired of people who have no tolerance for naysayers and feel like they need to school them. Sometimes the naysayers have valid points and ought to be heard. I think the guy who prefers gaiters due to his hearing aids is a perfect example of someone who should be heard. People who don’t wear hearing aids probably don’t consider why the ear loops might present a problem for those people. People who are neurotypical probably don’t consider why a parent with an autistic child outfits their child with a gaiter instead of a face mask. But they sure have no problem judging others.

I have a friend who wrote a “delightful” post about how she had met a friend for lunch. She wrote about how she didn’t bother with lipstick because of the mask. Then she posted a picture of herself and the other person, grinning behind their masks as they sat in front of food and coffee. Naturally, this picture was simply for show, since as soon as the camera was put away, they took off those masks so they could eat and drink. So what the fuck was the point of that post? Here’s a cookie. You did your part. Good girl. *Sigh*

The fact is, people are going to get sick whether or not they wear a face mask, a gaiter, or nothing at all. Sometimes, shit just happens. When shit happens, it sucks. I did read that South Africa has reported a much diminished flu season this year due to the widespread use of face masks, and that’s a great thing. But COVID-19 is a lot more contagious than the flu is. It’s going to be a problem for a long time. It’s okay to acknowledge that and realize it sucks. Positivity has its place, and I’m not saying it’s good to dwell in the bad. But trying to force people to be positive is a toxic habit. And if people are doing anything at all to show solidarity– even if the media says they’re “wrong”– people should appreciate it and leave them alone.

I’m glad to be in Europe, where people seem to be a lot more pragmatic about this stuff. People cooperate for the common good, but they don’t crow about it incessantly. They don’t nag people to be happy when they don’t feel happy. And I’ve found that in Europe, people seem to understand that some things just suck. We have to get through them somehow, but no one is handing out cookies for having a great attitude.

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